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To support the goals of the Division, the Committee is launching a blog on the TAWWA.org website to highlight existing utilities and programs across the state. This blog will provide valuable information on existing programs and highlight how more information on the programs can be obtained, thus creating an online database of water education resources.

 

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Beyond Raising Awareness: The True Value of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Wednesday, September 6, 2017

 

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

All Things H2O                            September 2017 Issue

 

 

 

 

Beyond Raising Awareness:

The True Value of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

 

Executive summary:

  • Customers are for the most part accepting and appreciative of AMI technology

  • Currently, water utilities rely too heavily on creating purely awareness campaigns

  • Awareness campaigns do not lead to a behavior change

  • The Diffusion of Innovation model provides a guide on how to get more people to embrace AMI technology

  • Innovators and Early Adopters, are the ideal advocates to first target when promoting AMI technology in any communication campaign

  • Behavior change is stimulated by developing persuasive messaging based on understanding of the customer psychology and values

  • Success of campaigns is dependent on starting early, preferably during feasibility analysis

 

In the past year, I have been especially curious to know if AMI technology serves any value in improving customer perception toward water issues and the water utility. In an effort to understand, I decided to investigate what water utilities are doing to inform/educate their customers about AMI, and if they see value in the technology for their customers. My inquiry process involved interviews and secondary research on AMI implementation as it relates to public education and outreach campaigns. Findings were published in a recent two-part white paper which includes analysis on communication models and case studies.

 

The research found that generally water utilities and industry experts see value in raising public understanding and appreciation of AMI technology. However, the public awareness aspect is often overshadowed as the water utilities tend to give priority to technological, operational and financial factors in the feasibility assessment process.

 

 

 

Despite the emphasis on technological, fiscal and logistical factors, public outreach campaigns benefit the implementation process of AMI’s. The case studies shared in the recent research show that when public outreach is included in the overall AMI implementation process utility staff see there is value to the customer. The value is reflected in a better understanding of water usage, bills and general water awareness. Even though evidence is anecdotal for now, e utilities in the case studies expressed plans to gather analytics to quantify the value of the technology to customers and investigate potential improved perceptions towards the utility.

 

When utilities have implemented public outreach and education campaigns around AMI implementation, they have done so with a few goals in mind. Their main goal focuses on raising general customer awareness on the accessibility of the information provided by AMI technology. The second most common goal is helping customers use the AMI information/data to find/investigate possible leaks on their property.

 

However, utilities often cited a chasm where efforts to educate don’t necessarily result in notable change in behavior and perceptions. As Patterson (2013) noted “if you want to change the world, you have to change how people behave. And if you want to change how they behave, you have to first change how they think” (p. 20).

 

A commonly cited barrier to AMI implementation, according to most of the utilities contacted, is getting customers to adopt the technology (i.e. online web portal) and engage consistently with the intention of adjusting behavior and increased understanding of their water bills. So, how do we overcome the barrier and go beyond just raising awareness? Can we change behaviors and opinions? Can we get people to readily embrace and adopt the technology?

 

The answer to the aforementioned conundrums lie within a theory known as the Diffusion of Innovation- a model developed by Everett Rogers and consequently adopted by Malcolm Gladwell in his popular book, The Tipping Point. The Diffusion of Innovation model helps explain the process of new technology adoption along five distinct groups of people. 

 

Illustrated below using a bell curve, innovators and early adopters are those who are eager to learn and curious to experiment with new ideas, even if doing so involves the risk of failure or disappointment.

 

When implementing AMI’s, target these groups of people as they are your advocates and the easiest to convince of the benefits of AMI technology. The segments later in the bell curve are those individuals who need more convincing mainly through facts and encouragement from early adopters and innovators.

 

 

AMI technology is fairly new to most water customers in the U.S. Thus, as it applies to the Diffusion of Innovation theory, only the innovators and early adopters have been reached. Through case study research, three common communication approaches used by water utilities to target innovators and early adopters include:

 

  1. Making information available through FAQs, press releases and email notifications.

  2. Training Customer Service Representatives to guide customers through web portal and explain the benefits of the AMI technology.

  3. Developing a micro-site dedicated to learning more about the web portal and how to interpret the data to adjust usage and detect leaks. Other commonly shared information are tips on conservation practices, adjusting lawn irrigation settings and available rebates on water saving technologies.

 

As evidenced by the case studies, applying the Diffusion of Innovation model provides insight on overcoming the chasm between the innovators and early adopters and the early majority and late majority.

 

Overcoming the chasm is where we will see a move in the needle through change in behavior and perception. Based on secondary research included in the white paper, there are tried and true strategies for water utilities to help them reach those early majority and late majority segment of their populations.

 

1. Use surveys and research to:

    a. Understand customer psychology better.

    b. Develop persuasive messaging with convincing calls to actions.

    c. Design creative, attractive and impactful media (print, digital and video).

    d. Develop a catchy brand that reflects customer values.

 

2. Keep message constant and consistent - This helps keep the campaign memorable and at the forefront of people’s minds, especially when there is a call to action involved.

 

3. Make campaigns timely - A three-month campaign is effective during the summer months when water usage tends to be higher than usual, however, regular reminders throughout the year will ensure continuity of the campaign message and call to action, thus moving the needle.

 

4. Social norming – Identify a social behavior or perception that is embraced by majority of the population – “everyone is doing it and you should too, because it is the right thing to do!” Social norming techniques used to get people to buy into a habit are beneficial for the community as a whole, a good example is community recycling and preventing littering in public or green spaces.

 

In conclusion, as water professionals we need to go beyond raising awareness because we have done that for years, only to fall short. Additionally, research indicates that it does not often change customer behavior. The tools for changing public behavior are accessible and easy to implement. We just need to advocate for a communications budget earlier on in AMI assessment and implementation processes.

 

We need to overcome the chasm!

 

To read more on the research and case studies referred in this article click here

 

About the author:

 

 

Sapna Mulki is the Director for Water at Hahn Public Communications in Austin, TX.

To contact smulki@hahnpublic.com

Tags:  ami  communication  water metering  water utility 

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